Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

HELP DESIGN YOUR CITY: TRC City Centre Master Plan consultations

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The invitation document header

Like all regional communities in the middle of the resources boom Toowoomba is a town growing rapidly. The Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) has initiated studies to develop the necessary planning strategies considering the region’s expansion into the foreseeable future. The project is entitled the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) and is intended to provide, ‘a co-ordinated set of design frameworks that will build on the strategic vision outlined in the CCMP by providing more detailed design concepts and guidelines.’[1]

Community consultations are a necessary part of the inclusive methodology employed by the TRC to ensure that their consultants and advisors ‘get it right’. On Wednesday the 17th of October members of the public and other interested parties were invited to ‘Help design public spaces within the Toowoomba City Centre’. We responded to an invitation for artists to contribute to the plan that came via the Arts Council of Toowoomba’s electronic mail-out.

            At the meeting we were given an overview of the project and introduced to a plan for the workshop that divided the city into ‘places’ for review and discussion including the following: Open Spaces, Laneways and Streetscapes, Public Art projects and the landscape.

The meeting began with an overview

Vicky joined the table discussing the laneways and Public Art projects, which was directed by Brisbane art consultancy and project management group, Urban Art Projects (UAP). The discussion identified important Toowoomba Spaces: The Chronicle Arcade, Bell Street Mall, Duggan Street and general laneways and pathways commonly used to flow through the city. All agreed that the West Creek needed to be acknowledged as an important feature of the city.

The discussion of public art projects was highlighted with a question regarding the current lack of an art policy in the TRC planning agenda. The attendees were then reassured that the policy very close to being approved.

Many creative ideas, some new and some proven such as the Melbourne laneway projects were mentioned in the round table discussion. The need for safe public laneways and actively utilised, peopled public spaces were key points for the new development. In-situ and ephemeral art projects were high on the agenda to resolve some of these issues. The time passed and seemed productive for the team running the workshop. Some new networks were developed as people interacted in the discussion.

Even though there was a genuine attempt to be inclusive and respectful for the potential of existing structures both physical and cultural, there was no guarantee that any or all of the ideas would be realised. This was a plan for the possibilities, rather like a suggestion box. How they were to be funded and managed was not on the agenda.

An aerial photograph and planning discussion document from the meeting

On another table the topic of Open Spaces was discussed with Peter Richards, Director of Deike Richards, a Brisbane based multi-disciplinary design practice. The members of the discussion group included many urban planners, architects, councilors and artists. Topics discussed looked at traffic flow, tree-lined boulevards, redevelopment of large blocks including the City Hall precinct, ideas for the Toowoomba Foundry site, bikeways and the repurposing of car parks into greenspaces. Suggestions for the Foundry site included a market like Melbourne’s Victoria Markets, as well as an artist’s studio precinct and a GOMA/MONA-like gallery—could it be called “TOGATOowomba Gallery of Art?.

Summation of discussions

Ever present on maps of the Toowoomba City Centre at this meeting is a mega shopping centre development by QIC Global, creators of Robina on the Gold Coast and other major shopping centres. Their plan is to link the existing structures of Grand Central and Garden Town shopping centres with an overhead walkway. This will necessitate the demolition of the Council Library and the bridging of West Creek. It’s interesting to consider that shoppers will now only need to drive to either shopping centre, cross the walk way to the other and back into their cars. They perhaps will no longer need to engage with the older town shopping precinct.

Discussion outcome overlays

What then is in store (a pun) for this historic town? What we are concerned about the following:

  • Will art initiatives be managed, controlled and undertaken by outsiders in a kind of cultural fly-in fly-out fashion or will the art be nurtured and generated within?;
  • Could the city centre end up as an experiment in urban(e) design?;
  • Toowoomba has great historical value and memory, both Indigenous and colonial that needs to be considered;
  • This city also has an important place in the landscape, on the divide between the great water system of inland Australia and the larger urban regions and fertile valleys of the coast; and
  • As the community also is home to a rich arts scene, with many notable local, national and international creative individuals and groups that where ever possible could be involved as active participants.

We hope that commercial and political agendas will continue, as shown through this consultation process, to be influenced by community input, needs and values. And that this collaboration will create an ‘art-full’, exciting and functional city centre to support Toowoomba’s future as the commercial and public hub for this rapidly changing region.

Victoria Cooper & Dr Doug Spowart

[1] From the invitation ‘Help design public spaces within the Toowoomba City Centre’

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